Holy Super-Overload, Batman!

Man ripping off shirt to reveal costume with dozens of super hero logos underneath

With Supergirl’s recent move to the CW network, I’ve started developing anxiety over this fall’s lineup of shows that start with the season premiere of The Flash on Tuesday, Oct. 4th. The CW has nearly cornered the market on the small-screen super hero genre and will have no less than four different DC properties running concurrently this fall – The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.

So far I’ve only watched selected episodes of Supergirl but I liked what I saw and with Kara’s move from CBS, I’m more inclined to watch full time since the likelihood of more frequent crossovers seem logical. Kara’s (and by extension, Superman’s) world isn’t in the same multi-verse as the other three DC properties however and so she can’t just fly to Central City and team up with Barry Allen whenever she feels like it. This is probably a good thing or I’d feel even more compelled to watch every week and I can barely keep up with three shows as it is.

The premiere season of Legends of Tomorrow wasn’t spectacular either. It featured too many characters, uneven pacing and more super-cliche’s than I could shake a stick at. I’m prepared to give the new season a go for a few weeks but if they don’t step up Legend’s quality quickly, I’ll gladly sacrifice it in order to try and keep my sanity.

Montage of Supergirl, Green Arrow and The Flash character portraits

Since all these shows reference each other, it’s important to watch them all in tandem to get the most out of them and therein lies the rub. How am I supposed to keep up with an ever-expanding array of superheroes and their villainous counterparts from week to week? Supergirl on Monday nights, The Flash on Tuesdays, Arrow on Wednesdays and Legends on Thursdays. I fear all of this is enough to make me want to swear off the DC TV universe for good.

Managing four superhero properties and their inter-relationships has to be difficult for the show runners but the payoff for the network has huge potential. By binding these four titles to each other, they’re essentially turning them into one, huge, can’t-miss CW television show each week. For fans this would seem like a win-win scenario, but with a continuous stream of quality shows like Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Luke Cage series coming to Netflix, our time and attention spans are ever-shortenting. I just hope they can deliver on the kinds of quality story writing, acting and special effects that are needed to keep us all tuning in for four hours of super-programming every week. Otherwise I’m afraid I’ll be giving my DVR a much needed break.

A Sticker By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Sweet Stickypoo Sticker

So imagine that thing you’ve built your entire professional career on, something you love to create with a burning passion, slowly fades from popularity. Day by day people have less and less use for it, fewer and fewer people write you to make requests. You try to stay the course and keep doing your thing, but doubts inevitably creep in.

Then one day you find you’re just not doing it any more. You’re not really sure what happened but somewhere along the way it just… stopped. It pains you that people no longer love or even really need the thing you’ve honed your craft on for close to twenty years, but what can be done?

You go about your business, applying what you’ve learned to other areas of your discipline. Occasionally a project invites you to play in the fields you once roamed with glee, but they seem few and far between.

Then one day something comes along that turns the old thing you loved to do into something new and exciting. It presents that thing in a whole new, modern way and lets you express your creativity as never before to an entirely new audience. These people are too young to really remember you or where you’ve come from but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re standing in the middle of those lush, green fields once again and the sky is literally the limit. It may not last a year, a few months or even a week but for now, for right now, it’s just as fun, just as compelling and fulfilling as it ever was and it is glorious.

Those “things” are simply icons. Desktop icons, specifically.

They are what, since yesterday, we now call stickers in Messages but they’ll always be icons to me. Their introduction in iOS 10 represents a new era for icon artists like myself who once toiled for endless hours to create piles and piles of icons that people could download and use on their computer desktops. We created them because it was fun for us as artists and especially fun for those who collected them.

The advent of the iPhone and mobile era changed all that and desktop icons went out of fashion. People were glued to their tiny screens and didn’t have the time or attention span to customize their desktop folders and hard drives any longer. With the advent of iOS 10 however, people once again have a way to collect and share those tiny, iconic works of art in the form of iMessage stickers. Stickers, perhaps even more than emoji have the capacity to inspire and delight people as never before and I have completely enjoyed creating them during these precious weeks leading up to yesterday’s launch. I’ve been working with my friends at the Iconfactory to bring hundreds of icons stickers to life and it has been a blast. I’ve worked with outside artists as well and watching them create has been joyous.

Stickers may turn out to be another flash in the digital pan and fade quickly into the sunset but that hardly matters. Even if they do, for one brief moment, they allowed me to re-energize, create and dream what might be possible. In short, they have inspired me. As an artist I can truly say this matters more to me than all the tea in China. Thank you, Apple. I owe you one.

Guest Judging Food Network’s ‘Cake Wars’ Was a Sweet Treat

Cake Wars Emoji Panel

Pictured L to R: Myself, Cake Wars regular judges Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas with host Jonathan Bennett

In my career as an icon artist I’ve had the privilege of working on tons of great projects, meeting fascinating people and participating in lots of wonderful events. This past March however, I was invited to appear on the Food Network’s reality baking competition, Cake Wars, as a guest judge and quite simply, it was an adventure of a lifetime. The theme of the episode I was to appear on was emoji, something I’ve become intimately familiar with these past few years. Needless to say when we received a request for one of us to fly to L.A. and participate as a judge I nearly fell out of my chair. From start to finish, my experience on Cake Wars was fantastic and so I just want to share some of those experiences with you.

The Journey

I’ve been a fan of reality TV cooking competitions for years with shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Great British Baking Show and more recently Food Network’s Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen. Over the years I’ve considered applying to a few of these shows in the hopes of showing off my amateur cooking skills but had never gotten off my butt to do it. So you can imagine how amazing it was to ultimately be sitting at the Cake Wars judging table next to the incredibly talented Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas.

From our initial email exchanges to arranging the trip, all of the people from Super Delicious, the company that produces Cake Wars for Food Network, were positively wonderful and made my time on set a joy. My first surprise happened as soon as I stepped out of the car on the Cake Wars lot. Ron Ben-Israel had also just arrived and he immediately came over to greet me outside the main door. He stepped right up, introduced himself and said “You must be Gedeon!” As we entered the building, he proceeded to tell me all about myself, where I went to school, some of the projects I’ve worked on over the years and even how long I’ve been at the Iconfactory. “You see Gedeon, I do my homework!” The sheer fact that Ron warmly greeted me and knew all about me was such a thoughful way to be welcomed to the set that I could hardly believe it.

All throughout the day, Ron helped me to know where to look for the camera, gave me speaking tips and even signed an autograph for me which I now have hanging on my desk at work. He even took time to answer any and all questions I peppered him with like how he makes the incredible buttercream for his award-winning cakes! In exchange I showed him how to receive animated emoji on his iPhone and tried not to gush over sitting right next to him *too* much. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say for the record that Waylynn Lucas and host Jonathan Bennett were also both super nice to me as were the entire crew of over 60 people. It was easy to see they had all done their jobs dozens of times before and knew where they should be, how to speak, what the director was looking for and more from the start.

Judge’s Table

If you’ve ever watched TV and wondered what it must be like to sit behind the judge’s table to critique culinary creations, let me try and set the scene. Cake Wars is broken down into two rounds; a smaller initial round where one of the four contestant teams is eliminated at the end and then a big, show-stopping round with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize. I’m not going to spoil the episode and tell you who won (you’ll have to watch to find out) but I will say that watching the bakers work and tasting their creations was a privilege. Both Ron and Waylynn warned me to be prepared to taste both great and not-so-great cakes and naturally they were right. Some were moist and delicious, some were flavored perfectly and some were so sweet they made my toes curl.

All of the cakes arrived at the judge’s table via production assistants with perfectly cut slices, meticulously arranged on white flatware in front of me. Needless to say I took great care when handling my fork and made sure to take my time, taste everything and made mental notes on each as I went. Thankfully the producers explained my primary concern was to critique the overall design and visual appeal of the cakes, how well they conformed to the emoji theme of the challenges and if they had been executed well or poorly. Since I’m not a food critic I gratefully kept the majority of my comments focused on the designs of the cakes. The contestants seemed to appreciate my feedback through the various rounds.

Behind the Scenes

Between rounds, each of the judges had the opportunity to retreat to their dressing rooms while the contestants baked. The final round happens over the course of 4 hours and so there’s a lot of work on set for the contestants to get their show-stopping cakes completed before time expires. The production assistant explained to me they would come and get all of us for the final 30 minutes of baking but I asked if I could stay in my seat and watch while they worked. She allowed me to remain on set and I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get to see the inner workings of the show and how it’s filmed but I also was able to ask one of the floor directors a bunch of questions that he graciously answered.

One thing I asked was if the producers look forward to “food disasters”, i.e. when cakes fall or major mistakes occur on set. His answer was telling. He explained that of course most producers will say they think these unplanned problems make for great TV, but they also tend to push the production schedule later in the day, sometimes much later and that’s bad. Things have to be re-filmed, stations reset and it just throws a monkey wrench into the works which wastes time, money and makes the entire production crew cranky. Ultimately he explained that Food Network wants the contestants to succeed in their efforts and produce the best cakes they can so in reality, it’s better to have everything go as smoothly as possible in the end.

That’s a Wrap

From the moment I stepped onto the studio lot, just like the emoji I was there to judge, I wore a huge smile across my face. To say I was honored to be a part of Food Network’s Cake Wars emoji episode just doesn’t do it justice. It was quite literally a foodie’s dream come true to be able to travel to L.A. and participate in judging these amazing cakes from talented bakers across the country. One of the teams however was much closer to home than I ever suspected.

I learned just this week that one of the teams I judged is based right here in Greensboro, NC! I went to visit Taylor Kisselstein at Easy Peasy Decadent Desserts and ordered a dozen cupcakes (emoji of course!) for the viewing party I held at my home the night the episode aired. Thanks, Taylor!

When I think back on my experience I will always remember the excitement of being on the set, but I also warmly recall the people, especially Ron Ben-Israel. He is a professional in every sense of the word with an amazing talent for baking positively beautiful cakes. I’ve spoken with him a few times since filming and even now he continues to be just as warm, gracious and helpful as he was that day and has even encouraged me to audition for Chopped! To him, and all the other members of the cast, crew and production team, and to everyone at Food Network, thank you for having me on the show. It was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

The Emoji episode of Cake Wars is available for purchase via iTunes. Enjoy!

Miscellaneous Thoughts & Observations

• Each of the judge’s chairs have a leather pouch hanging from the back of the seat for their cell phone should they wish to keep it handy but not on their person during filming

• The feeling you get when you see your own name on a dressing room door is just as amazeballs as you can imagine

• Ron Ben-Israel used to subscribe to MacAddict Magazine & was a huge Mac gear head back in the day

• Multiple people on set told me the “Minecraft” ep of Cake Wars was… challenging to film

• Each baking team has its own “story producer” who encourages them on set to be energetic, enthusiastic & speak clearly during the course of filming

• If all teams are in the weeds and are behind, the producers have been known to give them extra time to complete their cake creations

• Almost all of the judge’s dialog is unscripted. In contrast, nearly 100% of host Jonathan Bennett’s dialog is written for the camera. The script is edited in real time and constantly finessed and adjusted as events unfold during filming

• Fraternizing with the contestants prior to filming was strictly forbidden. Also, if one of the contestants approached me before filming began I was supposed to let the powers that be know O_o

• Having to eliminate people from possibly winning a $10,000 prize really stinks

• Awarding a $10,000 prize to a talented cake artist is incredibly awesome and more than makes up for the former :-)

Why I Love the Music of ‘The Martian’

While I was watching ‘The Martian‘ for the umpteenth time I had a mini-epiphany regarding the film’s music. One of the best parts of the movie for me is the sprawling, technical and beautiful score by Harry Gregson-Williams but I never realized why I loved it so much until recently. If you’re a fan of space-themed stuff like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series then be sure to check out my take on the music of ‘The Martian’ in this short YouTube video.

Update: Here are links to all 3 albums discussed in the video:

The Martian – (Original Motion Picture Score)
Vangelis – Albedo 0.39
Vangelis – Direct

How to Make Spiral Cut Hot Dogs

As recipes go this is about as simple as it gets so it’s not really about the ingredients so much as the technique. Why spiral cut your hot dogs prior to grilling them? When spiral cut, the hot dog ends up having more surface area to cook and this means more of that yummie, caramelized goodness after it comes off the grill. It also is just plain fun and looks cool on the plate. One you go spiral, you never go back.

My ‘Game of Thrones’ S6 Wish List

Tyrion & Varys In Meereen

SPOILER WARNING: This post covers events up to and including the first episode of S6′s Game of Thrones ‘The Red Woman’. If you’re not caught up, you probably want to hop the next boat to Essos because there’s nothing ahead for you except spoilers and regret. You’ve been warned!

After what seemed like an unusually long hiatus (it wasn’t I just was going through GoT withdrawal), one of my favorite TV shows of all time has returned to HBO for season 6 – Game of Thrones. Last season was an amazing mix of drama and building suspense as we witnessed Daenerys evolving from conquerer to ruler, endured the horrors of Sansa Stark’s betrothal to Ramsay Bolton and witnessed the coming fight with the White Walkers and their undead army. I’ve never read any of the novels but that no longer seems to matter as the show has now caught up to the novels and as such, season 6 should be as much of a surprise to book readers as to the rest of us.

To say I’m excited for season 6 would be a massive understatement but this was also true for each of the previous seasons as well. Like any dedicated fan, I find myself hoping for specific plots to take focus or characters and places to be revealed on screen so I thought I’d put together a wish list of those plots, characters and places I’m longing to see in season 6.

Casterly Rock

Casterly Rock is the seat of power for the Lannister family, an impressive castle hewn out of solid rock on the western-most shores of Westeros. The books describe Casterly Rock as almost two leagues long from west to east, containing tunnels, dungeons, storerooms, barracks, halls, stables, stairways, courtyards, balconies, and gardens. It’s popularly believed to resemble a giant lion in repose when the setting sun strikes it. We’ve heard the Rock mentioned numerous times in the television series but we’ve never actually seen it yet.

In the novels, Casterly Rock sits atop one of Westerns’ most productive gold mines which helps account for the Lannister family’s enormous wealth. Due to its legendary status, it is said visitors to the Rock sometimes believe the entire fortress was constructed out of solid gold. Artists and fans have put forth their interpretations of Casterly Rock but I really want to see how the show’s creators depict the mythical home of Tyrion, Jamie, Cerise and Tywin Lannister. Hopefully we’ll finally get to visit this epic destination in season 6 of Game of Thrones.

Cerise’s Revenge

You know a series’ writing is top notch when it can take one of the most reviled villains in all of television and turn them into a protagonist. Such was the case last season with the evolution of the incestuous Queen Cersei Lannister. Things have not been going well for Cersei for several seasons but by the end of S5 I was squarely on her side. Between being locked in prison by religious fanatics, her humiliating atonement of being forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing, and watching two of her three children violently murdered, I’d say Cersei deserves some payback.

The Mountain carries Cerise to safety

When Cersei had Tyrion wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of King Jeoffery (her eldest son) back in S4, I didn’t think I could hate a fictional character more than I hated Cersei. But the winds of change blow quickly in Westeros and given how much delight others have taken in the physical and emotional torture of the Queen, I now find myself counting the minutes until she unleashes her new pet, the re-animated remains of The Mountain on her oppressors. I’d like nothing more than to see the High Sparrow and Septa Unella beaten to death with their beloved Bell of Shame. Fingers crossed!

The Long-Overdue Stark Reunion

Ever since the end of season 1, the House of Stark has been a poster child for familial tragedy. With the death of their father, Eddard Stark at the hands of King Joffrey, the Starks were split up across Westeros, torn apart by war, distance and circumstances beyond their control. In particular, the two sisters, Sansa and Arya have not seen each other in years, nor do they even know the other is still alive. We’ve all been waiting patiently for at least 2 of the surviving Starks to get an on-screen reunion but to be honest I’m not sure we ever will.

The premiere episode of season 6 presents us with a small glimmer of hope however as Brienne of Tarth arrives in time to save Sansa and her slave turned savior, Theon Grayjoy from Ramsay Bolton’s soldiers and vicious hounds. Brienne lays her sword at Sansa’s feet and pledges her life to protect and defend her, and Sansa gladly accepts her and Podrick’s service. I’m willing to bet good Lannister gold that the first order of business in episode 2 will be for Brienne to reveal to Sansa that Arya is still alive, or at least she was when she and Podrick encountered Arya on their way to the Eyrie.

Brienne pledges her service to Sansa Stark

Will this revelation set Sansa and company on the road to find her long, lost sister? Perhaps, but more likely they will continue north to Castle Black where they believe Sansa’s half-brother, Jon Snow is alive and ready to help them. Little do they know that Jon was betrayed by his fellow Knight’s Watch brothers and killed as a traitor just a few short hours ago. Then again, perhaps Jon will be alive (and well?) when they arrive, which brings me to the final item on my Game of Thrones wish list.

Zombie Jon Snow

So many Starks have bitten the dust over the course of six seasons, you would think losing the bastard son Jon Snow at the end of S5 would feel like a pin prick, but you’d be wrong. Deemed a traitor by the Knight’s Watch for going beyond the wall and attempting to work with and save the Wildlings from the evil White Walkers, Jon was stabbed over and over again and left for dead in the cold snow.

Fans of the book and TV series alike have all theorized that Jon isn’t actually dead however and that he may come back to “life” as either a minion of the Walkers or as a resurrected servant of the Lord of Light, courtesy of the Woman in Red, Melisandre. Personally I think the former theory would be much more fun and lead to some seriously cool scenes where Jon takes revenge on the Knights Watch members who betrayed him, including Ollie, but the later is much more likely. Jon has king’s blood in him you see and there was plenty of it left over in a big, strange puddle after Sir Davos recovered his body. Perhaps Melisandre can work her magic one last time and defrost Jon in time for Sansa’s arrival at Castle Black. Whatever the ultimate fate of Jon Snow, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more of him very soon.

Hopefully at least some of these wishful predictions will come true in the weeks ahead as we journey through season 6 of Game of Thrones. If they do, I’ll be sure to update this post with all the relevant developments. The Stark Reunion is by far the least likely but I’m hopeful Cerise’s revenge will soon come to pass. No matter what happens, it’s going to be fun to watch!

•••

UPDATE: I’m pleased to report that several items from my wish list came to pass in last night’s ‘Home’. I was extremely happy to see Cerise’s revenge lumber into action as the re-animated Mountain squashed that dude who waved his junk at the Queen during Cersei’s Walk of Shame. It felt like a medieval Michael Meyers moment and I can’t wait to see who’s next.

As predicted, Brienne told Sansa about her encounter with Arya and also as predicted, the group (sans Theon) will continue onto Castle Black. Finally, we witnessed the anticipated resurrection of Jon Snow. Can’t wait to see the faces of Team Snow when Jon walks out of that room with Ghost at his side. ‘Home’ was a great second episode (giants flinging archers against walls… splat!) in what promises to be an incredible season. Can’t wait for more!

Animated Carl Sagan Radio Interview

If you follow me on Twitter or have frequented my blog then you probably know the late astronomer, Carl Sagan, is a personal hero of mine. It was in part thanks to him I became fascinated with science and outer space at a young age. His ground breaking PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage held me enraptured when it aired in 1980 and his books and writings like The Pale Blue Dot are among my all-time favorite.

I wish this brief radio interview from 1985 with Studs Terkel was longer, but regardless it’s wonderful to hear him expound on life in the cosmos, how science strives to uncover universal truths and how religion is tied to the history of our species. If you love Sagan, astronomy or just need a few minutes to take a break from the stress of the day, press play and check it out. You can also learn more about Sagan via the SciShow’s wonderful video tribute to him they recently produced. Great, starry stuff.

I Swear He Had Orange Eyes. Orange Eyes!

Donald Trump and Scut Farkus

Back during the run-up to the 2008 election, I blogged about politics a lot and I do mean a lot. Barack Obama’s historic contest against John McCain had so much riding on it after the disastrous 8 years we experienced under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney I felt personally compelled to speak up. Back then, Obama was a relatively unknown quantity trying to pull off an upset against an establishment candidate and the more we all weighed in, the better.

Since then, I’ve somehow managed to avoid blogging about politics. During the election of 2012 I dabbled with a few posts but mainly stayed out of the fray. I think this was mainly because I was confident Obama would win re-election and thankfully that’s what came to pass. President Obama ultimately convinced a majority of the American people that he had done a good enough job with his first four years that he deserved to continue his efforts for another term. Since his re-election unemployment is at historically low levels, the Dow & stock markets are up, the price of gas is down, great strides have been made towards marriage equality and more Americans are insured than ever before. I firmly believe if Barack Obama could run for a third term, he’d win in a landslide.

Which brings us to 2016. Like so many, I’ve watched the run-up to the Presidential Primaries with a mix of astonishment, disgust and a newfound understanding for just how badly some people are willing to set aside good judgement for their political beliefs. When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for President by descending an escalator to throngs of people paid to be there and support him, not for one instant did I actually believe he would become the GOP nominee. I sat and watched the first FOX News debate with both of my parents and told them again and again that Trump would never make the cut. I truly underestimated how far bluster, simple-talk, and praying on people’s fear will get a bully in politics.

No longer.

The rise of Donald Trump deeply disturbs and offends me and makes me want to start blogging once again. It’s not enough to simply sit on the sidelines and watch others call him out for his egotism, misogyny, racism and utter lack of respect for the truth. There’s a big part of me that can’t believe people actually want this ignorant blowhard to become the leader of the free world. More and more I feel it’s the job of everyone who opposes him to stand up and make their voices heard.

I know I probably won’t change the hearts or minds of those who support him. There will always be those who adorn their cars with TRUMP bumper stickers or their heads with “Make America Great Again” hats and they have already made up their willful minds. For them, I suspect, it’s not so much about backing a billionaire who blames illegal immigrants or muslims for their live’s problems as much as it is for spite.

Since Obama took office, conservatives have felt slighted by republicans in Congress who’ve continually ignored their demands. In time they fought back and begat what eventually became the Tea Party. When the Tea Party didn’t get the job done they naturally latched onto the biggest bully they could find to muscle their agenda through – Trump. Trump promises the sun and the moon if they’ll just trust him. Never-mind the fact he has zero political experience and doesn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.

Grover Dill & Scut Farkus from 'A Christmas Story'

Collectively, Trump’s supporters remind me of Grover Dill, the smirking toady of school yard bully Scut Farkus in ‘A Christmas Story’. To Dill, Ralphie (in this case liberals and RHINO’s alike) are weak sheep who deserve the political pummeling they’re about to receive and Trump is just the ruffian to dish it out. Grover’s out for revenge and isn’t afraid to talk smack, but careful to stay firmly behind the bully. The curious thing about most bullies however is they’re really just big babies who run home sniveling when you turn and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Like Ralphie, I’ve had enough of this thin-skinned, can-dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it buffoon so yes, I’ll be blogging more about politics from now on. If you care about what I have to say then tune in here from time to time or follow me on Twitter for my thoughts on this great circus we call an election. It’s a long time until November and anything can happen but I’m hoping to add my voice to the growing choir of progressives, conservatives and even children who all agree Donald Trump should never, ever be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

Gif vs Jif: One Is My Name, The Other Is Not

Recently Apple released a new iPhone commercial and aside from the usual cool technology on display, the internet’s big take-a-way was that Apple came down on the side of the age-old debate of how to pronounce the image file format acronym Gif. According to Apple it’s pronounced with a hard G and that really surprised me. I realize the debate about what is “right” when it comes to Gif vs Jif will rage on for years, but Apple has a tendency towards respecting the rights and wishes of content creators and in this instance they have clearly failed.

Back in 2013, Steve Wichita, the creator of the Gif format supposedly settled the debate once and for all and told the world that the name is pronounced like the peanut butter. Regardless of how you personally feel about context or syntax or any other factor, Wichita’s wishes, at least to me, are the deciding factor.

I’m reminded of a scene early in Star Trek: The Next Generation when Dr. Pulaski pronounces Cmd. Data’s name incorrectly. Both pronunciations are technically correct, as is the case with Gif vs Jif (at least according to Webster’s Dictionary), but only ONE way represents Data’s actual name. When you choose to pronounce Gif with a hard G, you choose to disregard the wishes of the format’s creator, and that’s the main reason why I say Jif instead of Gif.

Click Me. Just Once. The Answer To Annoying Click-Bait

These days click-bait is everywhere. Those oh-so-tempting headlines that promise amazing facts that will blow your mind and keep you in the know. Even the BBC, renowned throughout the world, and thought of as highly as the British royals themselves has fallen for the lure of the click-bait sirens. Yes the British Broadcasting Corporation is now producing content entitled a ‘certain amount of reasons we must do something’, trying their darndest to feed us “life hacks”.

We’re living in a world where even the Beeb are trying to capture us with cheap, over-egged headlines. It should come as no surprise that the main culprits lie with the likes of The Daily Mail and Buzzfeed however.

clickbait

You can hardly miss it, and one brand who has taken a stand is Ladbrokes Bingo. They’ve created a clever answer to click-bait with the Lingo Bingo generator to poke fun at the ridiculously over-the-top posts that are plaguing our collective web browsers.

Their headline generator allows users to generate Facebook, Daily Mail, Hollywood, Reddit and Buzzfeed titles with dozens of different headlines to choose from, putting to shame national newspapers and widely read sites with posts that are equally as unbelievable.

clickbait_headline

With titles such as ‘Lauren Goodger narrowly avoids torrential rain’, now you too can join the click-bait parade and openly mock the horrendous nature of stories hitting the web. And while ‘How to pick your nose like a pro’ remarkably hasn’t yet appeared on Buzzfeed, it feels right at home on Lingo Bingo.

It really is depressing how plagued the web has become with these kinds of fluff-filled headlines, but perhaps the most worrying part is we wouldn’t really be surprised if they actually hit the press or at least became the basis for Onion articles. At least for now we can take solace in fooling friends with our own home-grown click-bait shared via social media ourselves. After all, who wouldn’t want to catch all their followers with a finger up their nose?

How Modern Game Engines Are Improving Mobile Gaming

Batman_Arkham_Full

The widening selection of game creation tools available to mobile developers have come a long way in improving players’ experiences when gaming on the go. Game engines are special software frameworks designed to augment the strengths of modern gaming hardware and aid the rapid development and creation of new and exciting titles. Modern game engines contain all the necessary tools for developers to be able to create their kick-ass games more quickly and easier than ever before and the results have been impressive.

Thanks to the advent of smartphones, tablets, phablets and now wearables like Apple Watch, the monetary worth of the gaming industry is enjoying exponential growth. The mobile gaming market alone is predicted to hit $9 billion in 2016. The convenience of playing both casual games like mobile bingo, as well as pulse-pounding, hyper-realistic racing games have all helped the industry set new records. With the continual improvements of next-generation of gaming platforms and quality titles like Splatoon and The Witcher 3 to go with them, gamers are enjoying a bright future packed with high-quality titles from a host of publishers, and powerful engines are driving their success.

The Unreal Engine has long been a favorite among developers and has been responsible for helping to create such popular titles such as Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, Injustice, Borderlands Legends and the Infinity Blade series. To date, the Unreal Engine 3 has been installed on some 2.25 million computers worldwide and comes complete with an integrated Unreal Editor suite which has helped revolutionize the way developers build and develop their mobile game projects.

Plants vs Zombies title screen

For PopCap Games’ popular tower defense game Plants vs Zombies and OMGPop’s rather addictive mobile app Draw Something, the Marmalade SDK helped provide the facility and resources needed to create cross-platform C++ games.

The software development kit gives developers the ability to compile their Xcode and Visual Studio projects for Android or iOS which helps cut development costs while widening their potential audiences at the same time. Marmalade also provides an acceleration tool called Marmalade Quick which provides an even more flexible, open environment for developers to experiment with. This is particularly useful for those companies looking to get their games up, running and monetized more quickly.

Other game engines such as Unity can make 3D development a breeze whilst the Corona SDK helps solves issues of cross-content publishing giving developers more freedom to concentrate on other aspects of their games.

There’s little doubt that the modern state of game engine development now offers something for every type of game developer and this means more and more players are reaping the rewards. From casual to hard-core and everything in-between, these advanced tools in the hands of talented studios can only lead to every-higher quality mobile gaming experiences. What a great time to be a gamer!

Taking Stock of Your Online Subscriptions

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With the impending launch of Apple Music this week, it dawned on me that I don’t exactly know just how much I’m spending on digital subscription services. Back in the day I had physical newspapers & magazines show up on my doorstep every month so it was relatively easy to keep track of what I had subscribed to. Those bound, blocks of paper acted as reminders of what I was and wasn’t reading. Subscriptions these days can be tricky things; sign up for a Patreon here, add a new online media service there and pretty soon you’ve lost track of just how much you’re shelling out for the convenience of online content.

The new Apple Music service will cost $9.99 a month / $119.88 yearly but I already subscribe to iTunes Match which costs just $24.99 a year. Do I really need both? There are additional benefits that Apple Music offers that go beyond iTunes Match of course, but is it worth it strictly from a cost basis?

Before I can answer that question I really need to know just how much I’m spending month to month on all these things, so I went through and tried to catalog all of my digital subscriptions. Here’s what I found.

• MLB TV $129.99 yearly
• Netflix $8.53 mo / $102.36 yearly
• America’s Test Kitchen Multi-site Membership / $69.96 yearly
• iTunes Match $24.99 yearly
• Patreon $8.00 mo / $96 yearly
• iCloud 20GB Plan .99¢ mo / $11.88 yearly
• Angie’s List Basic $7.99 yearly

So in total, I’m currently paying $347.17 annually in online subscriptions which breaks down to roughly $29 per month. Overall that’s better than I expected, but then again these are only the subscriptions I could track down or remember I was paying. There are probably a few others I haven’t accounted for yet. I wonder if the amount of content I’ve subscribed to is below or above average for today’s consumer?

Are there subscriptions I could cancel to help get the new Apple Music service into my budget? I’m definitely considering ending my America’s Test Kitchen subscription for instance. The two Patreons I subscribe to (Kurzgesagt & Apple World Today) may not be necessary, but they bring me awesome content every month that I enjoy and wish to support. There’s no way I would ever ditch Netflix, it’s one of the best content providers I’ve ever had.

In the end, switching out my iTunes Match subscription for a year of Apple Music would bring my monthly total up to around $37 or $442.06 annually. That’s an increase of roughly 27% of what I’m currently forking over which seems like a lot at first glance. Will Apple Music be worth it? As I don’t currently subscribe to any streaming music services like Spotify or Beats, it’s pretty much impossible to say, at least for now. The good news is Apple is offering that infamous 3-month free trial when it launches on Tuesday so I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking advantage of that to evaluate the service.

If you’re cost conscious or on a budget and have not taken stock of your online subscriptions recently, now might be a good time to do so. Knowing just how much you’re spending each month can really be an eye-opener that will help you make informed for future subscriptions. At the very least, this exercise has taught me to categorize all of my online subscriptions similarly in Mint so I can easily review what I’ve subscribed to. Lastly, the folks over at iMore have also put together a fantastic guide to Apple Music that answers every question you could possibly have. Hopefully this all helps you as much as it helped me!

A Good Day to Dye!

Star Trek's Worf in rainbow gay pride uniform

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision struck down gay marriage bans in 14 states effectively making it legal for gay and lesbian couples to finally marry throughout the nation. The announcement sent ripples of rainbow-colored hope throughout the country and on social media. The hashtag #LoveWins quickly spread through Twitter and Facebook and people started updating their online avatars with the bright colors of the gay pride movement in a show of solidarity that I won’t soon forget.

I created the fun image above to help celebrate the historic announcement. Star Trek has always meant so very much to me, and like millions of others who grew up enjoying its themes of peace, diversity and tolerance, the image of proud, honorable Worf standing with his brightly colored rainbow uniform just seemed perfectly appropriate. I also love a good pun and hence I made it sew (see what I did there?).

On a more serious note, the momentous events of this week still have me in a hope-filled, optimistic daze. Obamacare being upheld for some 6 million Americans who rely on it for health insurance was much welcomed news but then the Supreme Court finally recognizing gay people’s right to marry was the proverbial icing on the cake. This has been a long, long time coming and there are some who didn’t think it would happen in their lifetime.

For opponents, the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage represents an unlawful power grab that defies the Constitution, but for the majority of the nation and the court, it represents just the opposite. The Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees that all US citizens are to be treated equally from state to state. Justice Kennedy’s closing paragraph stands as a pillar of legal and moral truth that gave me goose bumps when I read it:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

In their decision, the court didn’t construct a law giving gay people the right to marry, they simply struck down the state laws that were keeping Americans from being treated equally under the Constitution. They re-affirmed gays rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the rest of us sometime take for granted. For the religious-minded among us, the court was reminding everyone of the age-old proverb, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Return kindness with kindness. Respect with respect and love with love. What a wonderful time to be an American. Today is indeed a good day to dye.

‘Fury Road’ Inspired LEGO Creations

Fury Road LEGO

I love it when a movie, TV show or book takes hold in someone enough to inspire fan creations. I was skeptical when I heard all of the hype surrounding the new Mad Max film, but my fears were quickly buried in an awesome heap of twisted metal once I saw the film. A strange mix of classic action and modern, diverse storytelling, Fury Road really did live up to my expectations.

The film has inspired tons of art from fans from all corners of the globe and now comes these amazing LEGO roadsters from build master Calin (_tiler). I love every single bit of these builds especially the simple lines and bits of canvas and string used for the bedroll. Be sure to check out their Flickr page for even more amazing Mad Max vehicles.

These images take me right back to how I felt when I first saw the Kenner’s Landspeeder toy. I would spend hours in the sand playing with that thing until my mom would be forced to call me in for supper. It’s great how something so simple and fun can evoke the child in all of us.

Via Brother’s Brick

Game of Moans

As I prepare for tonight’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, I’m reminded of this classic exchange.

Game of Moans

I used to think everything related to Star Trek, but now-a-days I’m thinking it’s Princess Bride. Who knew?

You Will Adapt Your User Interfaces to Service Us!

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Everywhere you look, more and more people feel they are entitled to something they’re not. I and others have written about the obscene level of entitlement some users feel is owed them when they download apps from the App Store, and to be sure this is still a huge problem today. Lately however, I’ve been observing another form of app entitlement and honestly, it has got to stop – iPhone 6 Plus users who think all interfaces should be designed to both fit their jumbo phones AND still allow one-handed use.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 6 Plus and it’s enormous 5.5″ screen, it clearly filled a much-needed gap in the iOS universe. Users had been clamoring for more screen real estate for years and when it finally arrived, they rejoiced. Over time however, these users have developed a sense of entitlement that the apps they run should place all controls at or near the bottom of the screen where they can be reached by the thumb. Sorry, but like Captain Picard in First Contact, I’m drawing a line in the proverbial sand. No, iPhone 6 Plus users don’t get to dictate interface design for the rest of us.

Like it or not, buttons at the top of the screen are not going away any time soon. Developers need every bit of screen real estate to logically lay out controls consistently across a host of device ranges and configurations. From the tiny iPhone 4 to the popular iPhone 6 and the iPad there’s a method to our madness. It might seem like a great idea if every single button, tab, actionable element and control were within thumb’s reach, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it actually desirable.

When Apple developed iOS, the experts charged with designing its interface laid out regions of the iOS screen for specific interactions. Since the entire navigation stack generally flows from left (where you were) to right (where you are going), the button for closing or going back a level is at the upper left. Creation of new content or taking action on that content, like adding a calendar event or sending an email or a tweet, is usually found at the upper right. Tab controls can be either at the top or the bottom, though generally they are usually found at the bottom. In this way, a user who picks up an iPhone 4 has a reasonable expectation that similar types of controls will appear in similar places when she picks up an iPhone 6 Plus. This helps maintain usability and UI consistency for all apps, not just those that run on jumbo phones.

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There are ways that developers can help facilitate one-handed use when it’s appropriate. The swipe to go back gesture is a great innovation Apple introduced back in iOS 7 and is a thumb-saver on larger phones. Many apps no longer require you to reach up and tap “Back” to go back, you can simply swipe from the left edge of the screen to navigate back one level. Apple also implemented Reachability (double tap the Home button to lower the entire screen temporarily) to help reach interface elements at or near the top of the screen. But for some users, these gestures are simply not enough. The thing they forget is that by opting for a large device they gained a huge, highly readable screen but they also sacrificed some level of UI convenience. iPad users have been dealing with this trade-off for years, that’s the nature of the beast, like it or not.

When I first heard about the rumored existence of the iPhone 6 Plus and its huge screen, I wondered how Apple would reconcile its long-held tenet that one-handed use reigned supreme with that of it’s upcoming larger device. Apple even built an entire marketing campaign around the advantages of smaller iPhones vs their larger Android counterparts. But when the Plus was released, Apple quickly abandoned that philosophy in order to sell millions of 6 and 6 Plus’. Funny how that happened.

The problem with these users is that they often think like the Borg – they want the best of both worlds – larger screens and an interface that lets them use every app one-handed. As someone who designs for the screen, I’m here to tell them that until humans evolve longer thumbs that simply isn’t possible. At some point (iOS 10?) Apple may come up with a completely new interface paradigm for iOS, but in the meantime it’s best if they start dealing with reality. Whether it’s assimilating Starfleet personnel or playing with your apps, sometimes you just need to use two hands.

Mr. Spock and I

So many wonderful things have already been written about Leonard Nimoy on his passing this week. I’ve been awash in stories about his life, his contributions to our popular culture and his humanity, but I keep coming back to what he’s meant to me these many years.

I could write a book about Leonard’s portrayal of Mr. Spock but I’ve decided to record my thoughts in audio form instead. Just a couple minutes to try and summarize why I loved him so much, on saying goodbye and an amazing, chance encounter I had with Nimoy as a teenager, growing up in New England. This life-long fan will miss him dearly.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Shore Leave’

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Some of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek feature plots that venture from science fiction into the realm of the surreal. The series wasn’t afraid to take chances with stories that seemed strange and fantastical, even for Star Trek’s standards. Episodes like The Savage Curtain, Catspaw and Shore Leave all feature elements that, at least initially, can’t possibly make any sense adding an air of other-worldliness that was Star Trek’s hallmark.

When the crew of the Enterprise survey a lush planet in the Omicron Delta region, the place quickly presents itself one of those “strange, new worlds” Kirk highlights in the show’s opening narration. McCoy spies Alice and the Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sulu finds an ancient Colt revolver and Captain Kirk meets Finnegan, an upperclassman who tormented him endlessly at Starfleet Academy and a long lost love named Ruth. Both people from Kirk’s past can’t possibly be on this planet far from Earth, yet here they are in all their nostalgic glory.

Things get even more bizarre for the landing party when Don Juan shows up and Doctor McCoy is seemingly killed by a dark knight on horseback. The crew eventually discovers the entire planet was constructed so that its creators could come and visit and live out any fantasy they choose simply by thinking about it. One of the planet’s caretakers appears at the conclusion of act IV (accompanied by an alive and well McCoy) and suggests that with the proper precautions, their playground planet could just be what the exhausted Enterprise crew needs to relax.

I love many aspects of Shore Leave, especially how this episode set the stage for the creation of the holo-deck in Star Trek: The Next Generation – a place where you could go and magically experience anything you wished in an instant. The playground planet featured prominently in another episode of Star Trek: The Animated SeriesOnce Upon A Planet, and as you might expect, the crew encounters difficulties then as well.

Our one perfect shot from Shore Leave comes just as Kirk discovers his old adversary, Finnegan, leaning boyishly against a tree. The fantastic nature of his appearance, how director Robert Sparr decided to present him to the audience is wonderful. I always wished we had learned more about Finnegan, perhaps in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, but alas, that never materialized.

Next time Spock gets his first taste of command under extreme circumstances in “Galileo Seven”.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

TV I’m Enjoying Right Now

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: I don’t talk about specific plot points for these TV shows in this post, but I do outline them in general. As with all of my posts about TV & movies, if you’d rather not be spoiled about ANYTHING, you probably shouldn’t read on.

It’s not a stretch to say the US television landscape is currently experiencing a golden age. Everywhere you look there are quality TV shows to be enjoyed. As television and those who create it have branched out beyond the major networks to cable, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, competition for viewers has increased dramatically. If the current state of television is any indication, the best way to attract those millions of viewers is with high-quality series that can be consumed any time and anywhere.

There’s so much good TV in fact, that it’s pretty much impossible to watch it all so I thought I might share just four of the great shows I’ve been enjoying lately, why I love them and where you can catch them.

Arrow

I had heard so much about the CW’s show Arrow, based on the superhero from DC Comics, that I finally just had to check it out. The series follows spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, at the start of the show, is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns to his home in Starling City five years later a changed man, determined to clean up Starling as a green-hooded vigilante armed with a bow.

Arrow follows in the footsteps of prior super hero efforts like The WB’s Smallville and although it takes about 10-12 episodes to really find its footing, once it does, it really gets going. By the end of season 1, Arrow is a solid mix of action, gritty drama, geeky comic book fun and more. Stephen Amell plays the lead, Oliver Queen, and thankfully his acting chops have improved considerably since the start of the series. Ollie goes from a spoiled brat who has little emotional range to a complex character we care deeply about.

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Arrow also has a great ensemble cast including stand outs David Ramsey as John Diggle and Emily Bett Rickards as Ollie’s geeky, computer expert Felicity Smoak. The writers really start to ratchet up the story arc and drama near the end of S2 which culminates in some seriously great TV. Arrow also sets up the backstory for crossovers with another CW property I’ve started watching – The Flash. The two shows take place in the same universe so I’m looking forward to seeing how these two heroes interact in Flash S1 and Arrow S3.

Arrow is a great deal of fun and seems to be building its own personal mythos. As someone who’s knowledge of the DC character Green Arrow came solely from cartoon episodes of the Super Friends, it’s been wonderful learning about Oliver’s origins, his personal mission and his relationships with his friends in Starling City. Arrow also features other costumed heroes and villains I’ve often heard about but never seen on screen until now. The first two seasons of Arrow are both on Netflix streaming, the third season is currently airing on the CW but is also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

M*A*S*H

For many of you reading this, M*A*S*H is most likely before your time. The show followed a company of army doctors and nurses as they work only a few miles from the Korean War front to save wounded soldiers. Based largely on stories and accounts from actual MASH doctors, the series premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972, and ended 11 seasons later in February of 1983. It was one of the highest-rated television shows ever and its final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is still the most-watched episode of television in history with a record-breaking 106 million viewers.

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As soon as I heard Netflix streaming picked up the first 5 seasons of M*A*S*H, I instantly added it to my queue. I remember growing up on the show and loved watching the antics of surgeon Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, BJ, Radar, Potter and the rest of the cast week after week.

If you’re new to M*A*S*H, the first 3 seasons are pretty slapstick and based more on the comedic formula of the 1970 feature film than what would follow. Several of the main characters decided to leave after season 3 including McClean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John. When they left, the writers (and the actors) who replaced them made a conscious decision to set the new characters apart from the old and the show started taking on more dramatic depth.

Re-watching a classic series like M*A*S*H on Netflix is great because you eventually come upon episodes you’ve never seen before in syndication. Finding them is like unearthing gold, dramatic and comedic nuggets to savor and treasure. I already count watching at least 4 episodes of M*A*S*H I’ve never seen which is remarkable since I was sure I had already seen them all.

A situation comedy like M*A*S*H pre-dates the long-story filled arcs that are common among today’s popular shows, but it more than makes up for it in heart and touching character interactions. I always enjoyed seeing how these brave group of men and women clown, scrounge and save lives in the midst of war. There are great episodes in M*A*S*H that will make you howl with laughter as well as cry like a baby. The key is giving the audience the kinds of characters we care about and can relate to. When the show ended, none of us (myself included) wanted to see them go. Re-watching the series now, it’s very clear why.

House of Cards

For some TV goers, House of Cards may be an acquired taste. The award-winning series from Netflix returns for season 3 on February 27th and fans of the show have been anticipating it’s arrival like an overdue subway train. I got hooked on House of Cards after only a few episodes, largely due to the fantastic performances of the two leads, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Clarie Underwood.

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The show features the dark side of Washington politics and the lengths some will go to to seize and hold power. It’s a tight, well-written dramatic series that features some impressive twists and turns and enough political intrigue to keep fans consistently on the edge of their seat week after week.

Unlike Arrow or M*A*S*H, the entire House of Cards run is available for streaming, but only from Netflix. Indeed, House of Cards (and other Netflix series like Orange is the New Black) helped bring the term “binge-watching” into today’s lexicon. Thanks to how the internet is changing the way we watch TV, viewers can now experience the entire 10 ep season of House of Cards in a single sitting. Personally, I like to savor my television, so I usually skip a few days in-between episodes, but your milage may vary.

If you enjoy tense, political maneuvering, well-crafted, realistic characters or just plain good storytelling, House of Cards may be for you. Those who love the show, love it dearly and with good reason. Spacey, Wright and the entire cast is top-notch, the writing is clever and production values (especially the music) are as good or better than any show on network or cable TV. The cliffhangers from S2 have paved the way for what’s yet to come and I can’t wait until Frank finally gets back to breaking the 4th wall once again.

Archer

Yes, Archer is a cartoon, and yes, that sometimes means it can be childish and silly but for my money it’s also one of the funniest shows on television. Archer is the brainchild of its creator, Adam Reed, developed for the FX network and follows the exploits of Sterling Archer, master spy and anti-hero. The series premiered in 2009 and features adult humor and dark, sometimes vulgar comedy but that’s really part of what makes Archer so great.

Archer and his co-workers at the organization formerly known as Isis, are a rag-tag bunch of misfits who tout themselves as being skilled in covert surveillance. In reality, the team often causes more harm than they prevent, going from one international incident to the next, toppling governments, trying to overthrow drug lords and even protecting the Pope from assassination attempts.

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Archer is at his best when he’s facing off against any number of arch-villian spies the series has introduced over it’s 5-season run on FX. I especially love Sterling’s bionic rival, Barry Dylan, who has made Archer’s life a living hell on more than one occasion. Barry showed up again this season, as did a number of other recurring characters which has helped to make season 5 more memorable than the previous “Archer Vice” season 4.

The series features the amazing voice talents of H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, Aisha Tyler as Lana and former SNL cast member Chris Parnell who puts in a hilarious performance as accountant Cyril Figgis. The cast makes an annual appearance at Comicon and often does live episode readings, dishes on their fellow cast members and answer fan questions. I also love the visual style of Archer including the “sets” and the design of the characters themselves, many of whom are patterned on their real-life counterparts.

If you like off-beat comedy combined with a touch of adult humor and fantasy thrown in for good measure, you’ll want to check out Archer on FX. One of the best parts of an animated series is that the characters and show format generally don’t change. When it comes to Sterling and company, that’s just fine with me, they’re hilarious just the way they are.

Honorable Mentions

Other shows I’m currently enjoying or looking forward to returning include Marvel’s Agent Carter & Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Big Giant Swords on the Discovery Channel (yes, and it’s awesome!), Face Off, Better Call Saul and WWII in HD on Netflix.

Everywhere you turn there’s just too much good TV to absorb it all. I hope this quick rundown helps give a glimpse into the kinds of TV I love to watch. Maybe there’s something here that appeals to you as well, enjoy!